Ninety-Nine - then it Was a Hundred!
When No. 609 (West Riding) Squadron took off in their Spitfires from a southern aerodrome the score on the "bag pad" had stood at 99 for several days.
They were off to patrol at 15,000 ft., along a strip of coastline nearly 60 miles from their base. And all hoped that the Nazi fighter-bombers would come in that way so that the squadron's score could be raised to 100 – or more.
"Not a Jerry did we see", explained a flight-lieutenant later, "and we'd decided to return to our aerodrome when I heard by radio that a bomber was machine-gunning some troops 100 miles to the north.
"Detaching ourselves from the rest, I and a pilot officer who had recently joined us and had never before seen a Jerry, flew off to intercept.
"I looked at my map and decided that the bomber would take a certain course home and almost certainly fly low instead of wasting time gaining height.
"Down we went to about 200 ft., and presently my companion shouted over the radio in an astonished voice that a bomber had just passed beneath him.
"We swung round and gave chase. As we got near, hedge-hopping and skimming hilltops, the Nazis fired off some recognition signals to confuse us into believing they were in a British bomber, but we were close enough to see it was a Junkers 88.
"We both gave it a few bursts at short range and saw it crash near a wood and burst into flames."
The squadron's score now is 103, but their proudest possession (until the 200 mark is reached!) is a swastika from that Junkers 88, suitable inscribed to commemorate their 100th victim.
Yorkshire will be specially proud of 609's achievements (which have earned them a D.S.O. and seven D.F.C.s) because it was founded and was originally manned by Auxiliary Air Force personnel from Leeds, Halifax and other big West Riding cities.
I find that today the pilots are not all Yorkshiremen because promotions, postings and casualties have brought about many changes. The ground staff, however, are still mostly from Yorkshire.
The pilots who have contributed to the 100 bag include a journalist, a law student, a solicitor, a wool merchant, dye manufacturer, and an American who was a professional parachute jumper in private life. Several Poles have now joined the squadron.
"We reckon we've worked out the best fighting tactics of any squadron", said one of the pilots. "The trouble nowadays is that the Messerschmitt pilots will not stay to fight. And gosh! Don't we hope we meet some of those Wops!"
Story by Geoffrey Edwards: exclusive to The War Illustrated.